Easy Chat | Google Home Action

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The Product

easychat.mynmi.net

Easy Chat is an action for the Google Home that helps young professionals start talking to the people around them. As our world becomes more and more focused on screens, this skill helps people to disconnect from the internet and reconnect with the people around them. Easy Chat offers users a starting point for family dinners like, “What’s the silliest fear you have?” or a jumping-off-place for friends like, “Talk about the worst job you’ve ever had.” After getting the discussion started, Easy Chat fades to the background and lets the conversations flow naturally. So, give it a try! “Hey Google, talk to Easy Chat.”

The Problem

You know the feeling. You’ve invited some people over to your home to hang out, but everyone is on their phones. Do you start a board game? Do you pull out a deck of cards? Do you try to start a conversation, because that’s really what you wanted when you invited everyone over?

We know starting a meaningful conversation can be tough sometimes, so we created Easy Chat to help. Easy Chat is an action for the Google Home that provides conversation starters and naturally guides users into follow-up conversations. For example, the prompt to “talk about the worst job you’ve ever had” could lead to a discussion about the time your friend got fired for mixing the lemonade incorrectly, and then to a longer discussion about the great job she recently accepted and how each member of the group feels in their current job. Topics like “What’s the silliest fear you have?” can make the conversation more lighthearted, causing the group to lighten up and laugh together. Regardless of the topic, we created each of these conversation starters to help users connect with the people around them.

This action for the Google Home was specifically created for young professionals, because they have a unique experience in life. The typical young professional has likely moved to a new city for their first job, away from most of their college friends and roommates. They loved the sense of community they had in college and crave that in their new city, but they know it takes time to build it up. They invite some new friends over, but aren’t sure how to start having conversations that push beyond small talk without going too deep too fast. That’s exactly where our product comes in. By providing open-ended conversation starters that naturally lead users to tell follow-up stories, our product helps users connect with the people around them in a way that feels simple.

After providing a topic that the user is happy with, Easy Chat fades to the background so that users can focus on connecting with the people in front of them.

The Impact

We really believe that our product will change way people spend time at home. We want it to encourage users to put their phones down and choose to have great conversations with the people around them.

The Specifics

Users can start the conversation by saying, “Hey Google, connect to Easy Chat.” Then, Easy Chat opens and asks who they are talking to. Users reply with “friends,” “family,” or “a significant other,” and the randomized questions are filtered toward whichever group is selected, providing a simple, but tailored user experience. A question is given, and if users like it, they can say “thanks” and begin talking about it with whoever is in the room. If they don’t like the question, they can ask for another one. Once they start answering the question, Easy Chat fades to the background and lets conversations flow naturally among users.

The Tech

We created Easy Chat by using the Actions Console on Google and a Dialogflow agent. The Actions Console is Google’s tool for developers; it allows us to create, deploy, manage, analyze, and update Actions for the Google Assistant from any web-browser. Actions the different programs that can be run on the Google Assistant interface. Actions are supported on any device with a Google Assistant enabled: from smart speakers to laptops. This development tool has templates that can be used to extend mobile apps, enhance a company’s web presence, or connect devices like smart light bulbs. We did not use a template, but created an action from scratch.

When not using a template, the Console supports developing conversational exchanges between the Google Assistant and the user with a tool called Dialogflow. Dialogflow is a development suite that takes advantage of Google’s machine learning capabilities to support natural conversations on all types of interfaces: from websites, to messaging platforms, to smart speakers. The most important feature of this tool is that the program can be trained to recognize synonyms and other similar variations with a small sample set.

This means that when responding to a prompt from Easy Chat, a user can say any number of things, and the program can understand that input with high accuracy. For example, if asked, “Who are you chatting with?” a user might respond, “I’m here with Jeremy”. No developer can anticipate every possible user response, but with Dialogflow, we don’t have to. We simply have to train it with the types of responses we are looking for, and Dialogflow takes advantage of Google’s powerful databases to respond. We then use the Action Console to analyze which entities are very successful, and which ones need more focus. This combination of tools means that we can create more natural-feeling conversations between users and Voice Assistants.

The Lessons

We learned after creating our entire style guide/website that our product name was rejected by Google for being too similar to a phrase that people could naturally ask Google already. We had to pivot from “Let’s Chat” to “Easy Chat” at the last minute, so our advice for anyone creating a Google Assistant action is to submit early! It’s easy to make changes once the initial idea is approved, and we wish we had submitted before we did. Once you submit initially, Google makes any adjustments that you need to make very clear, so we recommend doing it early and then updating often!

Style Guide: Creating a visual style guide for a voice-based action was a new challenge. We decided to make our brand representative of the feeling that we hope our product brings to people’s lives: delight. We selected bright colors reminiscent of our favorite ice cream brand, Jeni’s. Their delightful color combinations inspired us to make our style bright, bold, and fun.

Competitive Advantage Report/User Research: “Pivot” is the unofficial title of this entire semester for us. Not only did we have to change our product’s name, we also had to adjust our direction for our product and figure out how to conduct research remotely once COVID-19 changed the end of our semester. Our initial research focus was on the loneliness that young professionals felt. As we continued working, we realized that while we do believe our product can help users connect and feel less lonely, we really just wanted to simply have them put their phones down and start having great conversations with the people around them. Our user research also had to pivot — we planned on having groups of people in the same room using our product, and then that became both unwise and illegal, so we did what we could with the remaining few weeks in our semester. We tested the product through Google Hangout calls with friends, through a few in-person tests with the people we were living with, and kept testing it out ourselves to eventually end up with a product we are really proud of. Though this semester looked quite different than we expected for user testing, we’re excited to see the feedback we get from users who actually start using our product on their own Google Home devices.

The Journey

Liz Conway: This program is full of rapid change, crazy curveballs, and fast turnarounds. You never know what next the next semester will look like or when you’ll have to be flexible and pivot. For me, this meant signing up for my first NMIX class in the summer before my freshman year — before I’d even walked across the stage for my High School graduation. It meant taking the GRE in my sophomore year and getting accepted to Graduate School and deferring four separate times. It meant taking classes over the summer while working overseas, and it meant endless meetings with counselors and advisors as we all tried to learn the ropes of a brand-new program.

Being in the NMI means being surprised many, many times before your final Capstone presentation. Some of these surprises will be bad- you’re a class short for graduating on time, or your app got rejected and you need to pivot quickly. Some surprises will be great- some research gives you a great insight, or your cohort turns out to be full of amazing people. And sometimes, you’ll get lucky and you’ll be surprised by something so completely novel that no one in the world has encountered this problem before. That’s when you’ve hit the magic spot.

Because, as stressful and hectic as it can sometimes be, the truth is that in this fast-paced, constantly changing environment, you have a chance to solve real problems and create things that the world has never seen.

So, here’s my advice: advocate for yourself, ask for help. You are not alone, but no one will solve your problems for you. Whether it’s a class project or a bureaucratic roadblock, or your final Capstone, approach every problem you encounter with creative energy, and come ready to offer solutions. If the stars align, you might just create something that changes everything.

Kaitlyn Fellows: This program has been one of the best parts of UGA for me. I started taking NMIX classes during my sophomore year when I was trying desperately to pick a major. I came in wanting to double major in Graphic Design and Advertising, but sadly learned that it would take me way more than four years to do that because essentially none of the classes overlapped. I chose the art school route and decided to do Graphic Design, then got rejected from the program and chose Art Education because I needed to stay in the art school after all those prerequisite classes.

Thankfully, I found the NMI and began taking classes that I loved way more than my major… so much more that I took the GRE, applied for grad school, and registered for my Masters instead of completing my certification in Art Education. I completed my degree, but knew that teaching wasn’t the route I wanted to take, so I went straight into grad school without ever looking back. This program taught me how to make the kind of designs that I love, the ones that users interact with, that need to be clear and concise and still creative. I’m now pursuing a career doing design (even though I never made it as a Graphic Design major) because of what I’ve learned in this program about clear communication.

Here’s my advice: if there’s something that you know you’re passionate about, don’t give up on it. I stopped designing for a year or two after being rejected from the graphic design program until taking an NMI class where we focused entirely on design. And then I found my passion for it again in designing slides for TEDxUGA, and then again designing the branding for capstone, and then again designing apps in our UX courses. I’ve made it back to what I truly loved to do when I got here six years ago. Find the things that you love to do and don’t stop doing them. Make those things fun for yourself again. And mostly, don’t be afraid to pivot when you get rejected from something you really wanted. If you care enough about it, you’ll find your way back into that world and you’ll love it more the second time around.

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